Prosecutors dropped the cold-case murder chargeagainst a former Pasco police officer accused of killing a Spokane woman in 1986 because of problems with DNA evidence.
Richard Aguirre, 53, had been charged with killing Ruby Doss, who worked as a prostitute
“Recent DNA results raise significant evidentiary issues, therefore, in the interests of justice, it is respectfully requested that the above named matter be dismissed without prejudice,” Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Jack Driscoll wrote in a court record filed Wednesday.
The DNA issues were not divulged in open court. Prosecutors can refile charges against Aguirre.
Aguirre’s attorney, John Henry Brown, said it was “not surprising” that prosecutors sought to dismiss the first-degree murder case.
“It was basically a mess,” he said. “We have filed over 300 pages of motions in this case, a lot of it dealing with the DNA, and a lot of it dealing with police and prosecutor misconduct.”
The Seattle-based defense lawyer, who is known for defending notorious clients including serial killer Ted Bundy, filed several motions leading up to trial that allege police and prosecutors mishandled key evidence.
Prosecutors charged Aguirre with strangling Doss in 2015 after a DNA sample he gave for an unrelated case matched the sample taken from a condom found near Doss, whose body was found a few blocks from East Sprague Avenue near the intersection of North Fiske Street and East Ferry Avenue in January 1986.
Spokane police said in the aftermath of Aguirre’s arrest that his DNA was being considered in several other unsolved homicides. Doss was the first of at least five Spokane women strangled between January 1986 and August 1987 in Spokane’s infamous skid row.
But sometime after the condom was tested for DNA in 1986 at a Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory, and again when it was retested in 1989 at a lab in New York, it went missing, according to court documents.
In a pretrial motion filed Oct. 9, the defense lists a lab worker in New York who was expected to testify that she “must have disposed of the condom” sometime after 1989 and before the evidence was returned to the Spokane Police Department in 2001, court records show.
“Somehow, the condom in this case just disappeared,” Brown said, adding that he believed a police detective working the case was the last person to handle the evidence.
The Spokane police detective denied a request for comment Thursday on the grounds that Aguirre could be retried in the future.
Elected County Prosecutor Larry Haskell confirmed the condom went missing during the investigation, but said it wasn’t material to the case since the DNA evidence that linked Aguirre to the body was already extracted.
“It wouldn’t have been an item that would have been paid attention to the way it would have been because of the advances in DNA,” he said.
In March 2016, Brown tried unsuccessfully to have the case dismissed, saying military records proved his client was in South Korea at the time of the murder. Doss was found dead on January 30, 1986.
Haskell, who was on the case before Driscoll, argued in 2016 that military records submitted by the defense did not say when Aguirre actually left Fairchild Air Force Base for Korea, and instead only established a reporting period.
The murder trial was delayed several times, including most recently on April 18, when trial was pushed back from May 8 to Oct. 2. It was further delayed by motions of discovery, Brown said.
Brown was Aguirre’s attorney in an unrelated 2014 assault and rape case in Franklin County. Aguirre was exonerated in March. It was the second trial the former officer faced on allegations that he assaulted a woman after going out for drinks. The first trial was declared a mistrial last summer, when a jury couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict.
Aguirre also faced an unrelated charge of voyeurism and witness tampering stemming from a video of sexual encounters police found on Aguirre’s computer and cellphone while collecting evidence for the murder case. Those charges were dropped in February.